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Feeling Gassy: Evaluating the Causes and Concerns

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Gas is a normal part of the digestive process that is produced and released by the body. This can come from swallowed air, carbonated beverages, and the breakdown of food by gut bacteria. The smell of gas comes from trace amounts of sulfur compounds in the gas. While gas is a natural occurrence, it can lead to discomfort and embarrassment, especially if it happens frequently or in public settings.

There are some common misconceptions about gas that can lead to uncertainty and confusion. First, there is no specific number of times a day that is considered normal to pass gas. This can vary based on diet, activity level, and other factors. Additionally, the smell of gas is not necessarily an indicator of an underlying medical condition. While some medical issues can cause excessively foul-smelling gas, a normal amount of gas can still have a strong odor. It is only when gas becomes excessive or is accompanied by other symptoms that it may be a cause for concern.

The Normalcy of Gas

Gas is a natural byproduct of the digestive process. Everyone produces some level of gas, and there is a wide range of what is considered normal. Some common observations about gas are:

Discussion of normal bowel movements and flatulence

Bowel movement frequency varies greatly between individuals, ranging from 3 times a day to once every three days. Bowel movements that occur less frequently than three times a week are considered constipation. Regular bowel movements are crucial for the healthy functioning of the digestive system and the overall body. Flatulence, or passing gas, can also be a regular part of bowel movements and digestive processes.

Frequency of passing gas

Normal adults pass gas between 13 and 21 times per day. However, variations in diet can dramatically increase this number. Though some individuals may be bothered by excessive flatulence, the frequency of passing gas is usually not considered a medical concern until the number of occurrences increases significantly from an individual's norm.

The role of diet in producing gas

Food that is not fully digested or absorbed in the stomach and small intestine is transported to the large intestine. Bacteria in the large intestine break down complex indigestible carbohydrates, such as fiber, into simpler gases like hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane, leading to the production of gas. The most common foods that lead to gas production are beans, bran, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, dairy products, and food or drinks containing fructose. Drinking carbonated drinks or rapidly drinking liquids while eating can also increase gas production.

When Gas Becomes a Problem

Excessive gas can cause discomfort, embarrassment, and impact the quality of life. Though the level of gas production can vary from person to person, excessive gas can be a sign of underlying health issues. Here's what to look for when gas becomes a problem:

Identifying excessive gas

There is no specific volume of gas that can be considered excessive, as gas volume can vary from person to person based on individual factors like diet and lifestyle. However, the following symptoms can suggest gas levels exceeding the norm:

  • Excessive flatulence, passing gas more than 21 times a day
  • Feeling full and uncomfortable after eating
  • Bloating in your abdomen
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Belching to release gas

Symptoms of gas-related issues

When excessive gas is a symptom of an underlying condition, it's often accompanied by other symptoms. The following are some symptoms that can occur when gas is a sign of a more significant health issue:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Anorexia
  • General malaise or body weakness

Potential medical conditions related to excessive gas

Excessive gas can be a sign of several medical conditions. Some common issues that can cause increased gas production include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Food intolerances or allergies
  • Pancreatic insufficiency, a condition that hinders digestion
  • Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity
  • Intestinal obstructions, caused by adhesions or tumors

It is crucial to note that excessive gas production is not always caused by underlying medical conditions. In some cases, modifying diet, exercising regularly, and ensuring adequate fluid intake can help with gas symptoms. However, if gas production is causing significant distress, pain, or additional symptoms such as those mentioned above, consult a healthcare provider for further evaluation.

Causes of Excessive Gas

Excessive gas can be a result of various factors that can be broadly categorized into dietary and non-dietary causes. Identifying the actual cause of increased gas production is essential to determine the appropriate treatment plan. Here are some of the most common causes of excessive gas:

Dietary Causes

  • Consumption of foods that are rich in carbohydrates and fiber such as beans, lentils, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, onions, and whole grains
  • Consumption of sugary foods, carbonated drinks, and alcohol
  • Eating too quickly and swallowing large amounts of air while eating or drinking
  • Poorly managed fructose or lactose intolerance or intolerance to other foods
  • Use of certain sugar alternatives like sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol, which can cause gastrointestinal distress

Digestive Disorders

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) inflammation or irritation due to diseases such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, or inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) leading to an increase in gas-causing bacteria in the GI tract
  • Gallbladder disease or pancreatic insufficiency that can affect fat digestion and absorption, leading to increased gas production
  • Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity leading to malabsorption of nutrients and increased gas production
  • Gastroparesis, a digestive disorder that delays food movement in the stomach and small intestine, leading to gas accumulation

Other Contributing Factors

  • Stress and anxiety leading to digestive problems and exacerbation of existing GI conditions
  • Medications such as antibiotics or some painkillers can alter the gut microbiome, leading to increased flatulence
  • Sedentary lifestyle leading to a decrease in physical activity and slowing down of digestion

Treatment Options for Excessive Gas

Identifying the cause of excessive gas can help determine the appropriate treatment plan. In most cases, treating excessive gas involves lifestyle modifications, dietary changes, and over-the-counter medications. Here are some of the commonly recommended treatment options for excessive gas.

Changing Dietary Habits

  • Reducing or eliminating gas-producing foods such as beans, lentils, cabbage, broccoli, onions, and carbonated beverages
  • Incorporating low-gas vegetables such as green beans, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, and tomatoes into the diet
  • Including probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut to improve gut health
  • Eating slowly and chewing food thoroughly to minimize the amount of air swallowed
  • Drinking sufficient fluids to help soften stools and ease bowel movements


Certain over-the-counter medications can help relieve excessive gas symptoms, including:

  • Simethicone products that break down gas bubbles in the stomach and ease bloating and flatulence
  • Prokinetics that help move food through the digestive tract, reducing the amount of time for gas buildup
  • Laxatives or stool softeners that ease constipation and reduce gas buildup
  • Antibiotics that help treat bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine causing excessive gas

Other Therapies

Some people find relief from alternative therapies such as:

  • Acupuncture or acupressure that targets specific points in the body to relieve abdominal discomfort
  • Herbal remedies such as peppermint or chamomile tea to relieve gas or bloating
  • Exercise that helps regulate digestion and promote bowel movements
  • Counseling or therapy to help manage stress and anxiety that can worsen gas-related symptoms

Prevention of Excessive Gas

Preventing excessive gas requires making changes to one's lifestyle, diet, and taking protective measures to avoid gas-related symptoms. Here are some ways you can reduce your chances of experiencing excessive gas.

Healthy Diet Tips

  • Avoiding or reducing intake of high-fat foods, carbonated drinks, dairy, and gas-producing vegetables
  • Include fiber-rich foods in your diet like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables with low gas-producing properties
  • Gradually increase fiber intake to avoid excessive bloating and gas
  • Drinking plenty of water and other fluids to help flush out excess waste from the body
  • Chew food slowly and thoroughly to break down particles and reduce air intake

Lifestyle Modifications

  • Engage in regular exercise to promote bowel movements and maintain digestive health
  • Avoid smoking and chewing gum, which can cause air intake and promote gas buildup
  • Avoid tight clothing which can put pressure on the abdomen and affect breathing and digestion
  • Practice good posture to avoid added pressure on the stomach

Other Preventative Measures

  • Keeping a food diary to identify which foods trigger gas-related symptoms
  • Taking probiotics to help maintain gut health and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria
  • Avoiding foods or drinks that you know trigger symptoms, even if they are not typically gas-producing
  • Exercising caution when consuming new foods, such as eating small amounts or sampling before eating more to gauge any effects on the gastrointestinal tract


Gas is a normal byproduct of digestion; every human being experiences gas to some degree. However, when gas becomes excessive and causes discomfort, it may indicate more severe underlying conditions. In summary, below are the key points:

  • Gas is caused by swallowing air and the natural digestive process of food in the intestines
  • Common causes of gas include eating gas-producing foods, digestive disorders, and eating too quickly
  • Excessive gas can cause a range of symptoms, including bloating, abdominal pain, and flatulence
  • Treatment options for excessive gas include dietary modifications, medication, and other therapies
  • Preventative measures include maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, and avoiding foods that may trigger gas-related symptoms
  • It is essential to seek medical attention if you experience persistent or concerning gas-related issues, as they may indicate an underlying digestive disorder

Therefore, if gas-related symptoms persist despite dietary modifications and other preventative measures, it is crucial to seek out medical attention. Also, if accompanying symptoms such as severe abdominal pain, nausea, fever, or constipation and diarrhea occur, then immediate medical attention is necessary. Your doctor may diagnose an underlying medical condition that needs specialized treatment. With proper care and attention, you can effectively manage and control gas-related symptoms to maintain a healthy digestive system.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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